If you read news about the Line 3 pipeline currently under construction in northern Minnesota, you would be led to believe that a foreign company is violating the rights of Native Americans who live there. That is so far from the truth. I should know — I'm an enrolled member of the White Earth Nation who also owns a construction company that has been working on the pipeline since December.
I can understand the public's misperception, because opponents of Line 3 have created a false impression that Native Americans are uniformly opposed to the project. This narrative is accepted by people because Hollywood celebrities and politicians far removed from Minnesota say it must be true, so others believe it. As with most things in the world today, you can't always believe what you see on your smartphone. People should listen to those of us who are actually working on the project, living where this pipeline is being built and creating economic opportunities for our people.
My father started Gordon Construction in 1983 as an excavating company, based in Mahnomen, Minn. There were not many Native-owned businesses at that time. As it grew, we expanded into commercial building construction in 1990. We became a union shop in 2000, and when I took over the business in 2008, we were doing a lot of work building schools, roads, bridges, water mains and storm sewers. At the same time our business expanded, we made sure that our safety and environmental record was strong so we could work on even larger projects. Today we are 200 people strong.
In 2012, I began to speak on behalf of the Line 3 replacement project being proposed by Enbridge. The existing aging and deteriorating pipeline was operating at half-capacity out of safety concerns, and the company was in the process of getting state and federal approval for a replacement that would be safer and made from better and stronger materials. This project was practically in our backyard and would provide important jobs for our company and our employees.
As a Native American, I wanted to know that the company doing this work had the best interest of the environment at heart. As I talked with Enbridge, I learned that they did and found they were good people. They had started an Indigenous engagement program for the pipeline replacement project in Canada, identifying Native-owned contractors to work on that project, and intended to do the same in Minnesota.
Due to our 30 years of construction and our strong safety and environmental record, our company was able to secure several projects from Enbridge, including building a helicopter hangar in Bemidji, Minn., and being selected as the general contractor for a pipeline pump station in Plummer, Minn. We also were hired to do maintenance work on the existing Line 3.
Once the Line 3 replacement project was approved, we won several contracts to work with both general contractors on the project, I felt strongly that since the pipeline was being built on treaty land, we would be in a unique position to make sure environmental best practices were being followed, including proper ground cover being replanted as part of soil restoration work. Our employees have been certified to do this type of work, and we are proud to be able to do so.
Some ask how I can be in favor of a project that goes across the land of our ancestors. The infrastructure is going to be built, and I feel it is more important to protect the Earth going forward with a pipeline that is newer and safer.
I believe in the rights of people to disagree with that view and peacefully protest the replacement of Line 3, but when it turns violent and our company and personal property are destroyed and the safety of my employees is put at risk, that is not acceptable. That is what happened to us earlier this summer. On June 7, protesters attacked a job site at Two Inlets, Minn., where our employees — including six who are Native Americans — were briefly trapped. Protesters scaled a fence, then began vandalizing and causing considerable damage to our equipment as well as an employee's private vehicle. The group put sand in gas tanks, slashed tires and cut hydraulic lines. All of this to supposedly help Native Americans and protect water.
Actions speak louder than words — they say they are peacefully protesting, but they're not. These people have regularly used violent tactics such as they demonstrated in June, but also have locked themselves to equipment, cursed, threatened and spat on our employees, harassing them while they try to do their work.
I am proud that my company is working on this important infrastructure project, which provides much needed work for people in our part of Minnesota. I am also pleased that we are able to provide good-paying wages to Native Americans who are looking to better their future with a career in construction.
Matt Gordon is an owner of Gordon Construction of Mahnomen.